The phony excuse of national security
"America's national security is under threat!" That's a statement quite often heard when Washington intends to curb imports of such goods as steel, aluminum, or vehicles and auto parts, and when American policymakers decide to turn against foreign investors or scare off Chinese students and academics.
According to international consensus, national security usually means that a state's power, sovereignty, unity and territoria integrity, the well-being of its people, its sustainable economic and social development, and other important national interests are free from danger and external threats. It has clear connotations and boundaries. But today, the concept has been abused by the world's most powerful state as a tool to promote trade protectionism and for it to maintain its hegemony.
Between the 1980s and the early 2000s, the United States launched 14 Section 232 investigations to determine the effect of imports on its national security. At the time, it was uncommon for the United States to impose trade sanctions in the name of national security: Only two of the 14 cases triggered punitive measures. But since 2017, Washington seems to have become increasingly insecure, leading policymakers to deem imported iron and steel products, aluminum, vehicles and auto parts, investments, talent, enterprises, and advanced technologies all threats to its national security. Many Section 232 investigations have been launched. There was even a national emergency declared last month over an alleged threat against American technology caused by China's leading tech firm Huawei. This poses the question: Who can threaten America's national security, given that it's number one in the world in terms of military, technological, and economic strength?
The answer is: nobody. The national security of the United States is not at risk. Rather, some figures in Washington are using claims about national security as a weapon to attack America's trading partners and advance their America First agenda. Washington has been incapable of coping with the great changes that have taken place in recent years, including the rise of emerging markets and developing countries, and national security has become an excuse it leans on when it wants to act on its suspicions about the economic development and technological progress of other countries.
The European Union has looked at America's actions and decided that national security was simply used as a cover to engage in economic protectionism. And the American Institute for International Steel and two of its member companies filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Court of International Trade, alleging that the Section 232 investigation used to impose additional tariffs on iron and steel imports violates the constitution. During an oral debate, a judge asked a lawyer defending the administration's position whether there is any product the president doesn't have the power to restrict imports on using national security grounds: "Could he, say, put a tariff on peanut butter?"
The frequent misuse of national security by the United States not only hurts its trading partners; it also impacts the international trading system and trust in the global marketplace. This harms the interests of the United States, and may even impair Washington's judgement should it find itself confronted by a real threat. And that is perhaps the biggest threat of all to America's national security.